Select committee says policy lacks coherence

The government’s localism policies have been sharply criticised by a committee of MPs for being an ill-defined concept cherry picked by central government when it suits them.

The criticism, from the Communities Department select committee, state that the desire to deliver localism is neither supported consistently across Whitehall nor implemented coherently by each government department.

Reforms to the planning system in the name of localism including the abolition of regional spatial strategies, which is blamed by housebuilders for the cancelling of plans for hundreds of thousands of new homes by local councils.

Clive Betts, chair of the committee said: “The Government has to be clear about what type of localism it wants to pursue. At present there is no generally agreed definition of the term that helps everyone understand, for example, what the future role of local government will be. Consequently, most Government departments have adopted whatever definition of ’localism’ suits their aims, and some key areas of policy remain notably more centralised than others.”

The report also concludes that central government is trying to have the best of both worlds, by only allowing local decisions when they agree with them. The report says: “The litmus test of localism will be the Government’s reaction to local decisions with which it disagrees. The concept of ’guided localism’ is an unhappy compromise which is neither helpful to local authorities nor as radical as the Government seems content to believe.”

In response decentralisation minister Greg Clark said he would look hard at the conclusions in the report. He said: “The Localism Bill will create new rights to challenge the way local services are provided, purchase important community assets and to create neighbourhood plans.

“The government has already made real progress shifting power from central government to local government – by ending 4,700 top down targets for councils, dismantling ring-fences on the way money is spent and freeing local councils from the dictates of regional strategies.”